We say that we are proud of our rich culture of arts and crafts. But do we really care about the facts of Indian Handicrafts; do we value the scrupulous efforts and the contributions of our artists?
The product that we buy is their hard work and dedication for keeping the authentic taste and the new trends and designs in mind.
A country is known worldwide for its culture, traditions, art, and craft. A country as culturally rich as India has a special place in the heart of every art aficionado, collector, enthusiast, and student as it has a wealth of artistic creativity and beauty to offer. Indian art has a profound historical relevance and rich cultural roots. Art & Craft is an integral part of the life of an Indian, despite the rapid social and technological changes that are taking place.
Handicrafts can be defined simply as an object made by the skill of the hands and which carry a part of the creator as well as centuries of evolutionary tradition. They bring a sense of grace to every home may it poor or opulent star hotels. There is timeless quality in these crafts objects as they have evolved from centuries and continue to be made even today with the same sentiment.
History of Crafts in India.
Crafts were an important commodity for world trade and they were a part of the economy in India, since ancient times. Trade lines between India and rest of the world existed from ancient periods. India is the home of cotton & Textile trade with the Far East and the Western world. Indian textile and their permanent dyes were accepted throughout the world. Roman trade documents mention that silk was exposed from India to Europe from the 6th century A.D. the Arab sailors brought silver and gold from their countries and took back shiploads of handicrafts objects from India to Far- East. In the North, caravans carried woven textiles along the silk route and went right unto Moscow by the Fur – route.
Under the good patronage of early Mughals, Indian handicrafts reached its pinnacle of perfection. Crafts like carpets, textiles, and jewelry were developed into fine arts. The famed Mughal Emperor Akbar, Shah Jahan & Jahangir invited skilled craftsmen from all over the world and blend their native ideas with our own techniques and skills. Brocading and velvet manufacturing developed rapidly in India than in their native countries. But with the breakup of the Mughal empire and the growing enmity between the smaller Princely states, local crafts lost their century-old local patronage. With the East India Company coming to India, the volume of trade reduced though they managed to strive. Despite the growth of handicraft industry in India, the average earnings of the craftsmen when compared to other fields is very low.
Handicrafts constitute an important segment of the Indian economy as it is one of the largest employment generators. The sector employs about 7 million people directly and indirectly, which include a large number of women and people belonging to the weaker sections of the society. It is a decentralized, highly labor intensive, cottage-based industry, spread across the country. Originally, handicraft started as a part-time activity in the rural areas; however, it has now transformed into a flourishing economic activity due to a significant growing market demand over the years. While most of the manufacturing units are located in rural and small towns, there is huge market potential across all Indian cities as well as outside the country. In addition to the high potential for employment, the sector is economically important from the point of low capital investment, a high ratio of value addition, and high potential for export and foreign exchange earnings for the country. In fact, the industry has seen a consistent growth of 15% over the last few years and handicrafts has contributed significantly to the foreign exchequer of the country through exports. Each state in the country has been contributing through one or more crafts and has made tremendous progress during the last decade.
Handicrafts also have a big potential as they hold the key to sustaining not only the existing set of artisans but also for increasingly a large number of new entrants in the crafts activity.
There are more than 67,000 Indian exporters/export houses promoting regional art and craftsmanship in the domestic and global markets. However, despite the large production base, the market at an international level is still unexplored. There is a huge demand for the Indian handicraft products in both national and international markets and India is one of the important suppliers of handicrafts to the world market; however, India’s share in the world handicraft exports is less than 2%. To match the demand and supply with quality, there is a requirement for greater technological support and innovation in the industry. Moreover, the handicraft sector suffers due to its unorganized nature along with additional constraints like lack of education, capital, and low exposure to new technologies, the absence of market intelligence and weak institutional framework.
Rising global demand: There is strong international interest in the Indian crafts industry and it is witnessing increasing demand for crafts from developing countries unlike from developed nations previously. The US and Europe together account for about 60% of the country’s total handicraft exports. However, hit by the slowdown in the US and Europe, handicraft exporters are exploring African, Chinese and South American markets to boost shipments. The major product categories that can be sold in these countries include house-ware, home textiles, furniture, glassware, bamboo goods, fashion jewelry, and lamp and lightning.
Highly decentralized: Numerous artisans working in the sector prefer to work independently, and not in any formal structure. Hence, all their activities are decentralized, minimizing their efficiency and production capacity. This independent working structure has a huge impact on the individual cost of raw material, transportation, and other ancillary activities. Due to inherent fragmentation of the sector, the benefits arising from economies of scale are absent, which hampers the ability of artisans to buy quality raw material at reasonable prices.
Handicrafts consensus: Lack of authentic and adequate data on crafts personnel, including their livelihood conditions, families’ details, and socioeconomic status is a major bottleneck that affects planning and policy-making for the sub-sector.
Lack of access to credit: Most of the artisans engaged in the sector are from economically weaker sections and constantly face problems due to a lack of resources. There is a wide gap between their financial requirement and their earnings. To fill this gap, artisans are forced to seek credit from local traders and money lenders who charge a very high-interest rate and have highly inflexible terms. To counter these issues, various schemes and services have been initiated by the Government and several financial institutions.
Lack of latest technology and infrastructure: The industry faces lack of design, innovation and technology upgrade. The artisans are still using the age-old technology and methods of production, which are highly inefficient. This restricts their production capacity and the quality of output. This is due to the lack of awareness or knowledge about the availability of appropriate tools and technology and other developments in the sector. There is insufficient market information on export trends, opportunities, and prices along with lack of adequate infrastructure.
This industry to maintain its connection to past and efficient handcraft skills, it is very important that it doesn’t get mixed with machine based, bulk works. While trying to maintain connections with past, often these artists don’t get exposure to recent trends of business and they rely a lot on the middleman. Times has come where with the impact of the digital age, and growing e-commerce market, now the artisans can be on their own, get exposure ton plenty of target population and earn maximum.